Da 5 Bloods

Da 5 Bloods ★★★★★

Da 5 Bloods is a film that’s unintentionally perfect for right now. It’s not as if it’s reactionary, it’s tackling issues of race and war that have existed for a long time, and continue to exist today. It isn’t as narrow as to just focus on one specific idea, it’s portraying this oppression of black people alongside the impacts of the Vietnam war and finding commonality between the two to expand upon.

It's building on ideas that Spike Lee has been developing across his entire career. This idea of love vs hate, not just in the hatred that comes from racists, but in how that racism and oppression is combated, either peacefully or through more aggressive manners. All of the Bloods look up to their late squad leader because of how he imbues a sense of hope in them for change, so losing that moral centre throws the group into disarray.

A lot of it is dissecting what they’re fighting for, both in the war, and in the present. During the war, they're conflicted because of how they're fighting on the side of a country who hates and doesn't respect them and yet they’re the ones being sent out to the battlefields and sacrifice their lives for nothing in return. There’s always somebody on top, sacrificing and undermining the work and lives of black people, which hasn’t changed from Vietnam to now, but now it’s much sneakier. Trump claims to be supportive of black americans, but as we’ve seen recently, he REALLY is not.
Also, once they return, there’s a conflict of interests. Primarily they're going back to recover the remains of their squad leader, but they’re also there to get the gold. The gold ends up causing conflict and distrust between everybody. The rift being the interpretation of what Norman meant when he decided to bury the gold to get later, to reclaim it for their people, making it unclear if they should keep it for themselves or donate it to causes that can make a difference.

A lot of the conflict is created by Paul, who is one of the most interesting characters in recent memory. He’s very angry, he gets easily agitated and lashes out in very horrible ways during this movie. Some of the things he says and does can make him really unlikeable, hell he’s wearing a MAGA hat for most of the movie. But you can still empathise with him because of how you see he’s been led into this path of hate and aggression, from his PTSD from the war, to how his life went on return home, you get a picture of how he resorts to this hatred and guilt and distrust which causes fractures in an otherwise tight-knit group who are eternally bonded because of their experiences together in the war. 
And Delroy Lindo man, JESUS CHRIST this man kills it in this role. He is able to be both the toughest, most terrifying force and at the same time be the most emotionally vulnerable of the entire cast.

The entire cast just knocks it out of the park. Delroy is the clear standout, but Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. are all great too, and you can really feel that connection between them, which is so crucial to have for what the movie is saying. Johnathan Majors is also excellent hot of the heels from Last Black Man in San Francisco.

I think what Lee does so well here is how he plays with tone. He lures you into this sense of security just seeing these guys hang out through Vietnam and all of a sudden pulls the rug out from under you and escalates the stakes tremulously and it becomes totally tense and terrifying. He uses the past scenes to show this almost glorified, classic film interpretation of the Vietnam War, where our heroes are gunning down vietnamese soldiers without mercy, with Terrence Blanchard’s heroic, classic sounding war score playing alongside it. And later we see the remnants of that, where they go back into a Vietnam where the impacts of that war are still felt on both sides.
There are a few little moments where those shifts feel a bit messy, like there'll be a little joke after something horrible happens, but mostly this tone shift really works. I think the script is also great, although one criticism would be that there's one moment with a very, very obvious set-up that felt a bit too on the nose.But overall I do think Spike Lee and Kevin Wilmont elevate the material, that being the original script from Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, which they reworked to include a black perspective of the Vietnam war.

The movie looks fantastic, with there being a real visual distinction between the 2:39:1 modern day scenes in Ho Chi Minh City, the 4:3 filmic look of the past, and the full screen, large scope of the current adventure in the jungle. It all helps separate these different sections really well in a clear way.

One thing I've seen complaints about is Spikes choice not to de-age the actors in the past, which is a baffling take that I don't get in the slightest. I guess the thought is it creates realism, but film doesn't have to be entirely foolproof in its consistency and can take liberties in that regard (take note Cinemasins), but there is a purpose to not de-aging them, as it's a memory of a war, it makes sense to insert the men as they are now into those scenes because it's like they’re still reliving these memories. Also, while deaging tech is getting better, it’s still a bit ropey. Unless you’ve got mad amounts of money, then the results could be mixed.

Lee’s style is still present here in spades, his use of real footage and photos to frame historical context, scenes of actors talking to camera (used here in such a phenomenal way), the double-dolly shot. It feels very much like a Spike Lee joint through and through and the way that he has such a command and vision over the look and the feel of this movie is apparent.

The editing is experimental and fresh, the score like I said incorporates traditional wartime timbre against images that contrast that sound. I think the violence is maybe a little too blatantly grotesque, but still effective.

I think what Spike has made here is bold and exciting. It won't work for everybody, I've heard different take ranging from “it's masterful” to “it's messy” and I get it. But for me, this film falls onto the side of masterful. It's a film that hits loud and hard with its ideas and its story and it's one that needs to be seen right now.

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